The most important game for each Top 25 team

OK, we've had our fun with the nonconference schedule. Auburn-Washington, LSU-Miami, TCU-Ohio State. But now it's time to really dive into conference play, where postseason spots are won and lost. What's the most important game for each Top 25 squad as the teams jockey for bowl and playoff positioning? Let's find out.


No. 1 Alabama: Nov. 3 at LSU

Going into Death Valley for the first time as a quarterback is tricky. So while the regular-season finale at home against Auburn might end up having the higher billing, we'll go with Alabama's Nov. 3 trip to LSU here. Coach Ed Orgeron has his team riding high with two top-10 wins and a defense that could potentially give quarterback Tua Tagovailoa & Co. a legitimate challenge. -- Alex Scarborough


No. 2 Georgia: Oct. 13 at LSU

Seeing as the Auburn game is at home, let's instead turn to the trip to LSU. After blowing through the early part of the schedule and looking at what lies ahead (Missouri, Tennessee, Vanderbilt), this should be the first legitimate challenge to the defending SEC champs. -- Scarborough


No. 3 Clemson: Nov. 10 at Boston College

No team appears to have an easier path to the playoff than the Tigers, who have just one ranked opponent -- No. 23 Boston College -- remaining on their slate. Don't overlook that BC game, though. A mid-November trip to Chestnut Hill is always a challenge, and just last year, the Eagles took Clemson to the wire -- the score was tied early in the fourth quarter -- in Death Valley. This season's BC team is better than last season's, too, and with A.J. Dillon carrying the ball and chewing up clock, there's a real recipe for an upset. -- David M. Hale


No. 4 Ohio State: Sept. 29 at Penn State

Judging by the rest of the Big Ten East and how the season has played out so far, it looks as though Ohio State's most important game will come when the Buckeyes travel to Happy Valley. Both teams have put up big numbers offensively so far this season, and this game came down to the fourth quarter in 2017, with Ohio State sneaking away with a 39-38 victory. If they get through this one, the Buckeyes should have a good shot at returning to the Big Ten championship game and potentially the College Football Playoff. -- Tom VanHaaren


No. 5 Oklahoma: Nov. 23 at West Virginia

As the three-time defending Big 12 champs, the Sooners figure to get everyone's best shot the rest of the way. TCU has usually been a tough out. And Bedlam could be huge yet again. But a Black Friday trip to West Virginia could provide the Sooners with a prime opportunity to make a late impression on the CFP selection committee -- and could be the game that punches OU's ticket to the Big 12 championship. -- Jake Trotter


No. 6 LSU: Oct. 13 vs. Georgia

It's easy to say Alabama because you could say that any season for the Tigers, but it's their home game against No. 2 Georgia that might loom larger in the short term. If the Tigers take care of business against Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss and Florida in their next three games -- and Georgia likewise reaches the game undefeated -- then that game in Death Valley could do a lot for the Tigers' playoff chances. A 7-0 LSU team with a victory over Georgia would have an impressive résumé and perhaps even be good enough to allow the Tigers to survive a loss to Alabama and still possibly sneak into the playoff. -- Sam Khan Jr.


No. 7 Stanford: Nov. 3 at Washington

The Cardinal appear to be the Pac-12's best bet for the College Football Playoff at this point but face a brutal schedule that still includes three road games against teams that are undefeated. And that doesn't include the one that figures to be the toughest: at No. 10 Washington. Oregon, Cal and Washington State are all undefeated, but the two clear favorites remain the Huskies and the Cardinal. The assumption here is the winner of their game in Seattle will go on to win the conference title. -- Kyle Bonagura


No. 8 Notre Dame: Oct. 6 at Virginia Tech

This is likely the toughest road game on the Irish schedule, what with USC and Northwestern struggling. Suddenly, too, that visit from Florida State looks less difficult. So if Notre Dame can handle business at home, this first trip ever to Blacksburg for the Irish might serve as the steepest hill to climb en route to a New Year's Six bowl game. The Hokies' stout rush defense will provide a serious test. -- Mitch Sherman


No. 9 Auburn: Oct. 6 at Mississippi State

Coach Gus Malzahn's squad can't afford another loss after falling late to LSU on Saturday. Not if the Tigers want to stay in the mix in the SEC. So while the Georgia and Alabama games are huge, don't overlook the Oct. 6 trip to Mississippi State. Nick Fitzgerald and that offense are a problem. As are Jeffery Simmons, Montez Sweat and the rest of the defensive line. -- Scarborough


No. 10 Penn State: Sept. 29 vs. Ohio State

The Nittany Lions have their hands full with Ohio State coming to town, and if both are undefeated when they play, there will be a lot at stake. A loss in this game means Penn State has to be perfect against Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin to finish out the season for any shot at making it to the conference championship game. A victory gives the team some leeway down the stretch and could eventually lead to another Big Ten championship berth. -- VanHaaren


No. 10 Washington: Nov. 3 vs. Stanford

The Huskies' margin for error as far as the playoff is concerned is zero, but should they win out, they'll still be very much in the mix come December. Three ranked teams are left on the schedule -- BYU, Oregon and Stanford -- but the game with the Cardinal is still the one to circle. -- Bonagura


No. 12 West Virginia: Nov. 10 vs. TCU

As with so many other teams in the conference, West Virginia's Big 12 slate is backloaded. Oklahoma State on the road (Nov. 17) and Oklahoma at home (Nov. 23) will be big. But those showdowns won't carry the same Big 12 title game -- and potentially CFP -- implications unless the Mountaineers take care of TCU. The Horned Frogs showed over the weekend against Ohio State that they will likely have a say in the conference race, too. -- Trotter


No. 13 Virginia Tech: Nov. 17 vs. Miami

The home date against Notre Dame will have plenty of fans excited, and for good reason, but a loss to the Irish won't undermine the Hokies' hopes of winning the Coastal Division. That will likely be decided by the penultimate game of the season, when Miami travels to Blacksburg and the division may well be on the line. Last season, the Hurricanes trounced Virginia Tech in South Florida, but this will be all about revenge on the Hokies' home turf. -- Hale


No. 14 Mississippi State: Oct. 6 vs. Auburn

The Bulldogs' battle with Auburn is key because -- assuming the Bulldogs beat Kentucky and Florida in their next two outings -- it would give them at least two games of separation in the loss column with Auburn, a team projected in the preseason to finish ahead of them. LSU is the bigger threat now, but a 6-0 Mississippi State with a bye week before the Oct. 20 game in Death Valley would be a great position for the Bulldogs. -- Khan Jr.


No. 15 Oklahoma State: Nov. 10 at Oklahoma

On the heels of a convincing victory over Boise State, the Cowboys could be favorites in their next six games before going to Oklahoma. Bedlam has carried Big 12 title implications in four of the past five seasons. If Oklahoma State can take care of business in the coming weeks, Bedlam could be massive once again. -- Trotter


No. 16 UCF: Nov. 23 at USF

Difficult challenges remain on the UCF schedule, but the most important game left remains the biggest one the Knights play every year: the regular-season finale against rival USF. Their back-and-forth game in 2017 became an instant classic, and, if everything continues the way it has through the first three games, their Friday game could be even bigger. Both teams are undefeated right now, so the American East Division and a possible spot in a New Year's Six game would be on the line in Tampa. -- Andrea Adelson


No. 17 TCU: Oct. 20 vs. Oklahoma

The Horned Frogs have played the Sooners as well as any other Big 12 team since joining the conference. The last time Oklahoma lost a true road game? That was in Fort Worth in 2014. The Sooners go back to Amon G. Carter Stadium on Oct. 20 - providing the Horned Frogs with a chance to take a big step toward making a return trip to the Big 12 title game. -- Trotter


No. 18 Wisconsin: Saturday at Iowa

There's no time like the present. This game more than any other will shape the Big Ten West race. And the Badgers' home loss this past week to BYU only heightens the urgency to get back to their brand of physical football. Lose this, and games at Michigan and Penn State won't mean as much. Adding to the attractiveness of the night-game matchup, Iowa has allowed 126 rushing yards -- the fewest nationally among teams to play three games. -- Sherman


No. 19 Michigan: Oct. 20 at Michigan State

The Wolverines travel to Spartan Stadium to take on Michigan State this season, and if Michigan doesn't come away with a victory, the chances of a shot at the Big Ten championship game seem bleak. Michigan has lost two of the past three meetings under coach Jim Harbaugh, so winning this game and evening up the score would also quiet a lot of murmurs about Harbaugh beating his rivals. This game could set the tone for the mentality of the team heading into the Penn State game and ultimately into the final game of the season against Ohio State. -- VanHaaren


No. 20 Oregon: Saturday vs. Stanford

With ESPN's College GameDay in town for Saturday's game against Stanford, there will be no bigger opportunity for the Ducks to announce their return to prominence in the Pac-12. Fans might see the game at Autzen Stadium against Washington in a few weeks as the win they'd rather have, but it won't matter as much if the Ducks can't get past Stanford. -- Bonagura


No. 21 Miami: Nov. 17 at Virginia Tech

Florida State has played so poorly in its first three games that Miami should be the clear favorite when the rivals play Oct. 6. The biggest game, then, has to be the Hurricanes' contest at Coastal Division rival Virginia Tech. The two have competed for conference championships going back to their days together in the Big East. Miami's 28-10 victory over Virginia Tech last season helped seal up its first Coastal title. And right now, the No. 13 Hokies and the Canes appear to be the two best teams in the division. Another game that can't be overlooked, though: Miami plays at No. 23 Boston College on a Friday night in October. -- Adelson


No. 22 Texas A&M: Nov. 24 vs. LSU

Since the Aggies got to the SEC, they have yet to beat LSU. If Jimbo Fisher can change that, it would be huge for the Aggies -- particularly given the way the Tigers look at the moment. It would almost certainly help with positioning for a better bowl, and a victory in the regular-season finale would mean Fisher's team has achieved what it set out to: playing its best ball at the end of the season. Just shaking off the pesky "they haven't beaten LSU" narrative would be nice for the Aggies. -- Khan Jr.


No. 23 Boston College: Oct. 26 vs. Miami

The easy answer here is Clemson, as no game will mean more for the Eagles' hopes at a division title. But we'll know a lot more about BC before the Tigers come north on the tail end of a brutal three-game stretch that starts with a visit from Miami and a trip to Virginia Tech. The game against the Hurricanes will likely be the biggest test to date for BC's offense. Miami's D is legit, and the pass rush can challenge the Eagles' O-line enough to determine whether they can hold up against the mighty Tigers. -- Hale


No. 24 Michigan State: Oct. 20 vs. Michigan

The most important game could certainly be the one against Penn State, at Happy Valley, which could show us what kind of team Michigan State really is. But the week after that, Michigan comes to town. Winning that game and going 3-1 over the past four seasons against Harbaugh, Mark Dantonio could put an emphatic stamp on his time in East Lansing. The Spartans are not out of it, but a Big Ten run seems unlikely, so winning this game would be a big deal this season. Losing it would have as important consequences the other way, as well. -- VanHaaren


No. 25 BYU: Nov. 24 at Utah

Life as an independent can be a lonely existence in the college football world. The Cougars aren't in the College Football Playoff mix, don't have a conference title to shoot for and have a slew of games left against teams they share very little history with. Trips to Washington and Boise State provide opportunities for marquee victories, but, after seven consecutive losses in the series, the Holy War at rival Utah is the only game that really matters. -- Bonagura